The party retreated to a corner of the large cavern to tend their wounds and contemplate their next move. Despite their severe injuries waning reserves of energy, they once again decided that pressing their dubious advantage was the better course to take.
As they discussed it, Ol’ Slosh quietly slipped off to investigate the tunnel down which Demmarris had not been carried by the elemental.
Seeing him disappear around the corner, the party moved to back him up, with Talise lingering near the tunnel entrance to watch for danger.
The short tunnel dead ended, and huddled at the far end, sick, drawn and suspiciously unbound, were the four prisoner-miners that Ol’ Slosh had mentioned a few hours before as some of the most recently missing: the gnomes Argi, Jomir,and Tolstoi; and the human Arbest.
The prisoners were weak and barely able to move, and described with horror that they had been saved from being eaten, but only so that they could be sacrificed in some ritual or rite that was to happen several days hence. As they did so, Brother Torm tended their wounds and blessed them with soft prayers to Jehnahn. The miners were all grateful for the aid, until the priest reached Tolstoi, who huddled in a corner of the room, and snarled as Torm reached to examine him.
The room grew quiet, all attention on the gnomes wild eyes. When Torm tried again, the gnome lashed out with a stone, striking the priest with an unnatural force that the party had come to know.
Torm, without hesitation, struck his attacker a pommel-blow to the head that laid the gnome out cold and, to everyone’s surprise, reverberated around the chamber, first as a roll of thunder, and then with a sudden cracking of stone.
For a moment, everyone braced themselves, certain that the gods touch on this primordial cave would cause a collapse. As the echoes faded, they turned to see a crevice opened in one of the cavern walls; a crevice just large enough for a man to squeeze through, and seemingly leading more-or-less in the direction they expected to be heading.
Moving quickly, worried at what sort of attention this new happening would draw, the party bound the unconscious Tolstoi—whose body, they now saw, was covered in patches of scaley grey stone—and escorted the prisoners to the main complex entrance. Once there, they left the prisoners to make their own way back to the mines proper, cautioning them, as they parted ways, to avoid the guards that had seemingly sent them to the Cult of Stone in the first place.
Then the party hurried back to the crack in the wall, to see what there was to see.
Ol’ Slosh went first, with only a dim light, to explore the crack. As he disappeared into the darkness, those who’d been with him longest noticed that his paunch, once quite pronounced, seems significantly less so of late.
When Slosh returned several minutes later, he described a narrow rent in the stone that wended several hundred feet or so before opening into a narrow five-foot crevasse of extreme depth. Some 20 or 30 feet upwards, the crevasse opened into what looked like a large chamber from which he could hear soft, gravelly chanting. Both faces of the crevasse’s wall were quite climbable, with the further seemingly made of some sort of opaque, blunt crystal.
Caelythanya, after a moment’s thought and some quick calculations, confirmed that that chamber was probably the location of the central pyramid she’d seen in her vision in the Sun Grove.
Naturally, conversation turned to the possibility of using the crack to approach the guardians of the pyramid, whatever they might be, from an unexpected direction, thus gaining the advantage of surprise. Talise expressed concern that they would all be caught half-out of the crevasse ready for a beating like the assholes they were.
Ol’ Slosh pointed out that if they followed the corridors down which Demmarriss had retreated, his minions would almost certainly be waiting to impart a beating on them like the assholes they were.
And so it was that Talise ventured a short way down the other corridor, and threw several well-placed stones into the darkness, creating a racket and, she hoped, a distraction. She then joined the others in their slow, cramped procession through the crack in the stone.
Surprisingly, the entire party successfully reached the end of the crack without raising any clear alarm. Unsurprisingly, they were all still inside the crack when their good fortune ran out and they heard the gargoyle being sicked on them from above.
Unsurprisingly, it was Ol’ Slosh who first bounded from the crack and began making his swift way upwards between the walls. Surprisingly, it was Fate who followed next, using the distraction provided by the old drunk to quickly teleport himself past the gargoyle and into the middle of a mob of stone-wretches.
Soon, the entire party had reached the top of the gorge, and the fight was joined against the gargoyle, the elemental, the mob and a withered husk of an eladrin who stood atop the pyramid wielding the great stone mace that had been Demmarriss’.
The battle was hard fought. While Fate was able to bring down the eladrin in short order, he nearly fell to the crushing blows of the ichor-drenched minions, and was only saved by Talise’s swift evocation of tempest winds that blew many of the wretches away.
As Ol’ Slosh drew the gargoyle away, Caelythanya noted the large onyx gems which lay embedded at the corners of each of the pyramid’s three stepped levels. She pulled one from its setting with a wave of her wand, and delivered it to Ol’ Slosh with a declaration of its import just moments before she was engulfed by the giant elemental geode which she promptly threw aside with a blast of resounding thunder.
Soon enough, geode retreated down the pit from which the pyramid rose, and the gargoyle fled down a tunnel that seemed to lead deeper into the earth.
The cavern grew quiet, except for the harsh dying gasps of the eladrin, and the low, subsonic hum of the pyramid’s power.
Quickly, the group set about removing the gems from the pyramid’s corners. They did so carefully, seeking to prevent any one of them from having overly much contact with the harsh elemental energies that moved through the gems, and seeking to avoid breaking the gems for similar reasons.
Meanwhile, the dying eladrin, who seemed to indeed be Demmarris, deprived of his stoney exoskeleton, spat threats and vitriol at them in primordial, even as they relieved him of his mighty stone mace and the strange adamantine key that he wore on a chain around his neck.
Just as some of them prepared to question the dying zealot, Fate inadvertently broke the gem he was trying to remove.
Immediately, a rumbling began in the depths of the pit from which the pyramid-pillar arose, and it became quickly apparent that the entire complex was about to collapse in on itself. Demmarriss, cackled in a hysterical mockery of dying mirth, cursing the party as a final sacrifice to his lord Orgremach while the weary heroes cast about for the best route of escape.